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How Your Comments Can Lose Your Readers

by Fadra Nally on April 12, 2011

What’s Your Social Dialect” will return next Tuesday where we’ll take a look at the blogger to business relationship from a PR rep’s perspective. Stay tuned!

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There is a lot to learn about the world of blogging. Nobody will deny that. Not only do you have to become at least somewhat familiar with web technology (e.g., understanding the basics of web domains and hosting accounts) and blogging software (WordPress, Blogger, Typepad, and more), but you have to fine tune your marketing and communications skills.

Yes, writing plays a big part in blogging. Yes, it’s helpful if bloggers can spell correctly and use the correct parts of speech, especially if they are taking their blogging to a professional level. But even the most intolerant readers will tolerate and forgive your writing errors and mistakes. And they may even overlook poor writing if you have great content.

Here is where we come to the crux of the post. What makes great content? Something that people want to read. Something that makes them take action. How do you gage if your readers think you have great content? That depends.

With so many different types of blogs out there, the measure of success may be different. I have all the respect in the world for bloggers who focus on very specific things like coupons, deals, and giveaways. I might be safe to assume that success for those types of bloggers involves traffic and actions to take advantage of the content (e.g., leave a comment, like a page, make a purchase, etc.)

For many other bloggers, the focus is on the writing and photography and the measure of success is the level of engagement with your audience. The most obvious measures include a Facebook link to your post, or a tweet of your post link. But the golden trophy in the blogging world is comments. Good comments.

As I’ve mentioned in the past, the more social media savvy companies aren’t always looking for high traffic numbers. They are looking at your community. Do you have regular readers and commenters? Can you start a conversation? And more importantly, can you continue that conversation?

If you are already a successful blogger (the word successful to be defined at your own discretion), you’ve probably found a formula that works. For new bloggers, it sure helps to have a few rules to follow. I’m going to give my my top 2 must follow rules for ANY blogger that is looking to create a community of readers.

1. Respond to your comments.

Early on, I read somewhere that if you typically have 10 or less comments on your blog posts, you should respond to every single comment. I have followed that rule even when my comments have far exceeded that. Why? Part of being a blogger is wanting to know that your voice will be heard. Your readers also want to know that their voice has been heard. Your words were strong enough to make them write a response: maybe a laugh or a cry, maybe words of encouragement or sharing a similar story. Let them know you appreciate them.

When do you have to stop following this rule? If a comment simply says “great post,” I’ll grant you an exception (unless you feel inclined to simply respond with a “Thanks!”). However, I encourage you to really think about the blogs you read and the blogs where you feel most valued in leaving a comment. Even Scary Mommy, who typically has comments on her posts in the hundreds, personally responds to the majority of her comments. And it’s why people love her (among other reasons).

2. Use an automated comment notification system.

I’m going to have to clarify this one. Most blogging platforms include a comment notification system… for you. You are sent an email whenever someone leaves a comment on one of your posts. At least, I hope you do. It’s pretty standard on most platforms. Where things go awry is when you follow my first rule of responding to your comments.

If you don’t have a system in place that notifies your commenters when you respond to them, you are wasting your precious typing. Just like you love to see when someone has commented on your blog, I love to see when someone acknowledges my comment and even responds. But most of the time, I can’t tell you if this has happened.

If you use a commenting system like Disqus, chances are you are golden. Built in to their design is the ability to carry on a threaded conversation in comments with each participant being properly notified via email. On WordPress, certain themes have threaded comments and comment notification built-in. Thesis happens to be one of them.

disqus-and-thesis

My personal blog uses only Disqus.

A lot of other bloggers use a commenting system like Intense Debate. I like using the system but it requires a step. Do you want to subscribe to comment replies or to new comments? Are they replies to my comment or any comment? Frankly, these days, anything that uses the word “subscribe” scares me as I’m trying to keep my inbox as clean as possible.

Other platforms, like Blogger, don’t have built-in threaded comments nor do they have comment-specific email notifications. So what’s a blogger to do?

Time to break out those Google skills. I won’t push Disqus on you since many people don’t like it. However, it is an easy-to-install commenting system that works on multiple platforms. You can also look at installing Intense Debate. Just remember that your comments to your readers will only get read if they have subscribed to replies.

You can google terms like “threaded comments on Blogger” or “comment notification system” and you will likely find some code to patch in and help the problem. If you’re afraid of the word code, put your question out on Twitter and perhaps use the #savvyblogging hashtag for the most relevant answers.

In summary, if your blog is an online diary and comments from friends are nice, don’t worry about any of the above. If you’re here because you care about the business of blogging and you care about engaging your audience, follow my two simple rules.

Now it’s your turn. Have you taken stock of your commenting system? What works for you?

  • http://squarejawmedia.com/ Brian McDonald

    I use Disqus and like it but it has given me some trouble in the past. I have to admit that their staff is responsive to support requests and worked with me to solve the problem. Another tool that I use to keep track of comments is Chrome has a WordPress Comments Notifier app that has an icon in my browser and will notify me of new comments and how many.

    The real beauty of commentes is that it shows true engagement. Bloggers that respond to comments in a timely manner are more likely to increase repeat visitors and engage their readers in a conversation.

    • Anonymous

      I implemented Disqus long before I heard the complaints – and there are many of them. But since that time, I think they have improved significantly and a lot of the issues seem to be more user experience than actual problems. As for support, I find they are pretty responsive on Twitter and if there is a major problem, a plug-in update is usually available quickly.

      Will definitely need to check out the Chrome app since that’s my primary browser. I’ve only recently started experimenting with apps.

      I also agree with the engagement. And when it ignites a real conversation, I really feel the powers of words.

  • http://www.mommywords.com Brittany at Mommy Words

    I have Thesis and I have not seen that it has a comment reply notification setting in it. It does suport threaded comments. Hmmmm. I use Reply Me. Yes, its a plugin and I try to avoid plugins but I love this one. There was another I used, comment reply notification, but it did not play well with Thesis and threaded comments and you had to reply from the site and not your dashboard. With Reply Me I can work through my dashboard, which I much prefer.

    My issue with Disqus is that sometimes it does not let me login and then I get all kinds of confused by how to leave a comment. Also, if you type your comment before you login (as I often do) and then you log in…your comment disappears. As far as Intense Debate, it works well but man is it big on sites and I’m with you, the word subscribe in the same box as comments is terrifying!

    • Anonymous

      You are absolutely right about Thesis requiring an additional plug-in. It’s not necessarily for notifying the author of comments and replies. It’s for making sure that comment replies more than one level deep still send email notifications. With Comment Reply Notification (which I use on AndNobodyToldMe.com), the reply notifications go 5 levels deep – an important need for a site that creates a lot of community discussion.

      I’ve also heard and experienced some of your Disqus frustration. I have had readers get confused about leaving comments or tell me they just refuse to leave comments on Disqus. For me, the pros definitely outweigh the cons and in the past year, I’ve personally seen vast improvements.

      I may have to check out Reply Me! I’m used to going to the site itself to respond.

  • http://twitter.com/amandaaustin Amanda

    Wow, this is great. I’ve always been afraid of doing Disqus/Intense Debate, etc. because I’m afraid of losing my old comments. But I do like responding. Most of the time I do it through email, but then when you have the dreaded “noreply”, that’s when it’s hard! And I like when the comments turn into a discussion. It makes the blog a living, breathing thing and that’s really important to me. Still a little scared though ;) I don’t want to “break my blog”

    • Anonymous

      I will tell you that there is *always* a risk of data loss when it comes to data import/export. My blog was not comment-heavy at the time I made the move and I had only just started threaded comments.

      If you are on WordPress, the transition could be pretty seamless. If you are on Blogger, you may want to research your options a little to ensure your data will play nice (not always the case with Blogger, unfortunately).

      And yes! The living breathing blog is blog nirvana!

  • http://twitter.com/snarkymomma Tiffany

    I really enjoy the engagement in comments and wish that mine stacked a little differently so you could see who I’m talking to, but that’s a code issue I’m too lazy to fix right now.

    I’m trying to get better about responding to comments, even the “That’s great!” ones – I do care what people have to say and I use their responses as my litmus as to whether I’m approachable.

    • Anonymous

      I, too, was lazy when it came to code. I tweeted out of frustration, found a local guy to send me the code, and then ended up switching my theme to Thesis that pretty much took care of everything for me.

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  • Anonymous

    Hi, I use Disqus on my blog as well, but until now I’m not sure if it sends notifications to my commentors when I replied to their comments.  Can you clarify?  Is it automatic?

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